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It takes a collaborative community to educate a child

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A PGDLT alumna shares her experiences of being part of a mentorship programme and her more recent experiences of trying to collaborate in a new workplace

Shradha Jain

There is a famous African Proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. What does it mean? African culture recognizes that parenting is a shared responsibility – a communal affair – not just the concern of parents or grandparents, but of the extended family. Uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours and friends can all be involved and all have a part to play.

My experience as a first time parent were somewhat different. When I became a mother, bringing up my two children was never a communal affair for me – I craved for a guide or a support who could advise and help me to hold the strings together. I dealt with it all; singlehandedly. I can say I managed the show well; well almost!

When IAAT happened, I stepped into a world of learning. A space where I learnt as well as unlearnt. A space that was new to me. I had worked with children and youth of almost all age groups. However, being a teacher was a new milestone for me. I stepped into a learning space with a mentor by my side. I was literally handed over to her.

Inside a classroom, observing the mentor teacher is one of the most powerful and insightful experience a mentee can go through. I experienced that magic! To be able to engage 32 odd eight year olds in learning. You comprehend a lot, merely by observing.

I took my first Maths lesson in Grade 2 with my collaborating teacher and mentor teacher observing me. I made mistakes conceptually because of the fear of the subject. However, my mentor stood watching and gradually and discreetly she transitioned into the lesson without affecting the lesson as well as the students. It helped me to learn and understand her approach towards the situation. She imagined herself being in my shoes (a teacher feeling challenged) as well as being in the children’s shoes (a class looking confused). As a mentor as well as a teacher, she could empathize and had strategies at hand to take charge and make learning happen.

It is extremely crucial that the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is of two learners. People who are striving to learn from each other. My mentor was receptive to my questions and curiosities while I was receptive to her feedback and insights. There were times when I did not feel confident about taking a particular class and I was encouraged to go ahead and do it even if I made mistakes. It was heartening to know that I was allowed to make mistakes and my mentor was there to support and rectify. I also learnt that the mentor and mentee have a shared responsibility towards the students’ learning in a classroom.

Having graduated from PGDLT, as a new teacher, I have a vision to make my classroom a collaborative community. A space where children are allowed to make mistakes while learning and eventually learn from the feedback from each other as well as the teacher. It is an uphill task which looks far-fetched but definitely not impossible. What may work is to be able to identify situations where children collaborate naturally and use them as simulations.

I have experienced that collaboration happens effectively when the individuals involved are treated as ‘equals’. When there are no power struggles between two adults or even between a child and an adult (a typical situation between a parent-child and sometimes even a teacher-student). Each one of us has different talents, so it helps to work with each other rather than work by ourselves. These are opportunities for close collaboration, shared challenges and the sense of achievement that comes from successfully working through such challenges. Collaboration and mentoring works brilliantly when planning engaging lessons for the students. It helps to improve our professional knowledge and skills when several minds and experiences are put together.

However, a challenge that is faced by many of us here is the lack of structures that aid collaboration. Schools and organizations strongly believe in collaborating but fall short of providing support and opportunities for the same. Reasons can be many, however, we as people who impact children’s lives need to ensure this diligently with no compromise. Here I would like to quote Einstein, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ And before I end I want to leave you with a quote by Steve Jobs, “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”

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Student in Focus: Anuradha Kishore – From clinic to the classroom

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The IAAT class is a diverse space with students from various walks of life coming together to enrich the learning experience in unanticipated and spectacular ways. The presence of Anuradha Kishore is one such addition. A graduate of AIIMS and the Royal College of Physicians, London, Anuradha has over two decades of experience as a paediatrician and has been running a private clinic for the past 13 years. Apart from providing an invaluable perspective to us all, Anuradha is thoroughly enjoying the process of becoming a learner again. Here is her story in her words.

What is your life’s dream?

My dream is to work with children who have special needs and different capabilities. I have always enjoyed being around children, working with them and for them. In my 20 years of experience as a paediatrician I received immense satisfaction in terms of helping young beings find relief from their immediate ailments and providing guidance for their growth. But I felt one big lacuna which still needed more inputs from us as child health-care professionals – the field of special needs education. I wanted to contribute to this need in some effective manner. With that passion in my heart, I began my path in the field of education.

I would first like to attain a sound knowledge base about teaching and learning of young minds and gain reasonable hands-on experience of working with children in the elementary years in a progressive and inclusive school. After gaining enough experience of the methodology, content and pedagogy of various parts of learning in the youngest age group I would like to gain further experience in a specialised environment dealing with differently abled children.

Just as we follow the learning approach in Medicine where we first master the normal body anatomy and functions before knowing how to diagnose abnormal and devise an intervention, in Special Education too the first step to learn would be how to detect a problem no matter how subtle it is in the early years and then plan a well-rounded approach to help the child achieve his/her true and best potential.

As the majority of such special children are just marginally away from the expected normal range, with the right inputs at the right time, we can surely help most of them make a significant difference to their lives and attain the required life skills to survive and subsist in a challenging world.

How does being in the classroom help you in what you want to do? What do you feel like you’re gaining?

For the experiential part of my training at IAAT I have been assigned a KG class at Heritage Xperiential Learning School Gurgaon that has 30 students with 6-7 of them needing extra inputs from the teachers at every level. Being there with my Collaborating Teacher and co-tutor thrice a week for the entire school day I get a complete hands-on experience of what steps are needed to conduct a fruitful learning experience, starting from pre lesson planning, co-conducting lessons to review meetings and feedbacks at the end of the day.

Through this process, I have been able to see the various challenges that a teacher faces and needs to handle on a day to day basis while keeping the pace of learning going. It’s heartening to see how compassionately my co-teachers are making sure all the students are gaining knowledge through their own capabilities without missing out on any opportunity.

Being with children in the clinic and in the classroom – how different are they?

It is similar yet different being with children in the context of a school environment compared to what I have experienced before. Dealing with 1-2 children at a given time in a clinic setup where each interaction would last for 15-20 minutes is very different from being with 30 of them together but in a healthier setup where they are bursting with energy and enthusiasm for the whole day.

Now I feel the need to encash on my physical stamina too while keeping my thinking cap on all the time as these children throw a new challenge at you every few minutes.

However, the speed and consistency of attentiveness needed in both situations are alike and I feel it’s a blessing to work with the purest form of beings who are so honest and generous when it comes to giving a positive or a negative feedback!

You’ve been part of this programme for almost two months now. How far do you feel you’ve come as an individual? What kind of growth/challenges are you experiencing?

I have truly enjoyed the journey I have covered in the last 7 weeks at IAAT. It has been an awakening in many ways. I always knew how much I love the company of young children and how much I value what they have to tell the world in their own sweet ways, but I have now discovered how patient we need to be as adults to allow them the time and space that they all need in their own different journeys of growth and fulfilment.

Without doubt I have grown as a person too, grown more expressive, more compassionate, more inquisitive and more at peace with myself and the world around me.

Maybe the path ahead is a long one but I feel I’m not alone. I have my colleagues and friends who are as passionate about making a change to the present scheme of things as I am. Together we will cross all hurdles and find the momentum we need to keep this ball rolling.


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Discipline or direction?

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Indumathi S.

This reflection comes in the context of the notice issued by the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) to the Ministry of HRD that elements of Sainik School – such as discipline, physical fitness and patriotic outlook – be promoted in other schools (Indian Express, July 21st). It appears that the state is using schools to promote their agenda and controlling what ought to be taught and learnt. In this article, I would like to discuss how discipline is understood and whether schools need to promote discipline.

Discipline is defined as the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour. In this definition, the power and authority connotations are clear. Discipline seems more like indoctrination. In this case, one can ask – whose rules, rules for whom, or what behaviour, obey whom and so on. One wonders why and how schools started taking this role of disciplining students. Is discipline something schools need to promote? What is the purpose of schooling and education?

I discuss two situations below where discipline and norms are dealt with in classrooms or the school scenario.

Case 1:

Students wear uniform. As they enter school they are checked to see if they are wearing tie, shoes,  and school identity card, amongst other things. They are punished or questioned or given warnings if they fail to adhere to it. The school has rules on how students should walk up and down the stairs, how teachers need to be greeted when they leave or enter the class, where and how they sit and so on. The rules are ‘must’ and ‘should’ and such rules are mostly framed by the school authorities. I guess most of us would be familiar with many such rules in the school and come across such situations.

The belief is that such kind of disciplining helps in behaviour or character formation. Does this belief need to be questioned? Do imposed rules lead to character formation? Pupils tend to follow such rules as they come from teachers for the fear of punishment or consequences if they are broken. Often, one comes across students who behave differently when teachers are around and they are not offered opportunities to know their true selves.

Case 2:

Few students were bullied in class VII. They brought it up a few times to the notice of the teacher. The students and teachers sat in a circle during the assembly and the teacher raised the issue in the classroom. Most students felt that they were bullied. The teachers asked them to share some of the instances without naming their friends. Students shared examples and how they felt about it. The teacher asked them to think for some time and come up with a solution. The students came up with a few solutions and norms. The teacher asked if they could choose one norm and follow it.  Many said that name calling would not be accepted. Teacher asked if everyone would agree with following this one norm for a month. The students – at least 90% of them – felt so. The teacher then posed what would happen in the class if someone would not follow this norm. The students mentioned that they would remind the other person and if their friends still continued to call names, they would not cooperate or include that person in the team game.

The teacher could have just said that there would be no name calling in the class and if anyone found so would be punished. Would this have helped to control bullying? In this situation, there is no imposition from the teacher. The norms are discussed and laid by the students. Are the students moving towards some norms for themselves to operate, or to work and learn together in the classroom?

But this situation also has its challenges. Bullying might not stop completely. One or two might continue to bully or falter. The students could bring it to the notice of the teacher and the teacher might have to have a conversation with the student. He/she might have to understand what is going on in the child’s life, what prompts the child to call names and address the root causes. But is this possible in every class with 30 students? This might be possible if trust and dialogue are built into the school culture. It is a continuous process.

The words direction and order are also synonyms of discipline. Direction and order appeal more to me than the idea of discipline. Schools can foster direction and order. Order and direction are required for effective teaching and learning. I am not saying that rules be done away with. It is about the process of how rules and norms evolve and are followed. The way it can be done is more through dialogue and reflection. Rules and discipline, if imposed from outside, might remain only as rules to be followed for the sake of someone and not as value for oneself.

 Indumathi S. is a teacher educator at IAAT. Questions on gender and science intrigue her and she likes to write on education.


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Community and consciousness

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Varun Gupta

Last Saturday, after school got over for the day, I stepped into the Sri Aurobindo Ashram to spend time with myself for a while. There I saw a beautiful quote by the Mother, “Whenever you face any problem you are doing, look within. You will find the source and solution of the problem.”

I read these lines very carefully and tried to think deeply about them. Yes, they seemed true, and upon meditating on them for a while, I felt that I could relate to them. It became easy for me to link Mother’s thought to my own life’s context, to the tasks and interactions that I have.

Thinking on this, nevertheless, gave rise to a query in my mind. What about for people who are at a stage where looking within isn’t possible as yet? I feel that until such a stage comes – and even afterwards – when we are able to look within, observe and make connections, we require support.

That support can come from a community, from the love and trust that we are able to garner from it. I have a strong view that introspection and community support are parallel strands in the evolution of life.

If a person does not have the support of a community and is only looking within, then there is a chance that he or she will get tired or frustrated. Similarly, if a person with community support doesn’t look within or reflect, then that community does not prove to be sustainable. In a way, community and introspection are complementary forces.

When I speak of community support, I do not merely mean to limit it to worldly help. A community is in itself that great love, empathy and trust which nourishes each of its beings. It’s that ethereal, magical strength which is present in everyone’s hearts and minds. It’s the interdependence and interconnections that create a feeling of oneness.

No matter what the conditions, if an individual has that kind of a community, he or she will not feel alone or get disheartened. They will know that they do not need to justify themselves. Instead, they will know that they are being listened to, are trusted and respected, and are valued and loved for being themselves. This is what gives them hope and the strength to carry on.

A highly dynamic community is sustainable only when there is sincere effort in all its members to look within and reflect. Only when we observe our thoughts, emotions and actions, look into the source of much of our behaviour and habit patterns, are we able to give meaning to our community.

As a human being and educator, I am realising the importance of community more and more each day. I am very fortunate to have the experience of a beautiful and soulful community. I would like to express my heartiest gratitude to that community and my mentors. As an educator, it will be my sincere endeavour to build such communities at my work place and in life.


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A vision for the teacher in me

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Meenakshi Gupta

The word ‘educator’ brings images of hundreds of thousands of children growing and learning with their teachers. An educator has huge social and moral responsibility. She is a mixture of various roles and personalities like of a mother, a guide, a visionary, a friend, and sometimes an elder brother or sister.

As I read and think about great teachers like Aurobindo, the Mother, Tagore, Gandhi and Krishnamurti, I try to imagine how much hard work, especially on the self, is needed for one to become a teacher. An educator first knows herself, seeks how she learns in different phases of life, dwells on what constitutes learning and teaching, what is knowledge, and the various ‘how’s and ‘why’s of education. It seems to require a lot to be a teacher. I can say that to be like an educator is almost like being a yogi.

My fears

On one hand, becoming an educator is my aspiration. It comes from an inner wish, an inner voice that tells me to do something for the joyful and true learning of children. I like to be surrounded by a lot of children and interact with them. But as I mentioned earlier, being a teacher is an enormous responsibility. I carry a fear whether I will be able to do justice to that responsibility. Since we are all products of our conditioning, we often behave in ways that we have learned in our childhood and what we see around us. Will I be able to undo the effect of such conditioning? Will I be able to unlearn old practices so I can open up to a more integrated approach to learning? Will I be able to carry with me a flexible mind?

There are many more fears. Being a teacher will require full alertness and persistent patience to listen to each child. I fear that some of my words or behaviour may damage the child’s feelings or self-esteem. I fear that I might not be able to give them sufficient freedom and opportunity to explore, make mistakes and learn thereafter. I fear whether I’ll be able to connect their previous learnings to their immediate environment, providing them with relevant contexts or prepare a conducive environment for learning with safety, love and care where they can construct their own knowledge.

Krishnamurti has said that comparing a dull student to a cleverer one is cruelty. In my own school experiences, comparison was rampant. But according to Krishnamurti, this only causes fear in students. It is the barrier to a clear understanding of oneself and life.

My hopes

I have started on this journey with a lot of hopes, with courage and determination. Fears exist but I am ready to face them and turn the shortcomings into opportunities of learning. With an attitude of a lifelong learner, I hope and strongly believe that I will be able to put effort and succeed.

With the help of this programme and my mentors, I hope to learn all the things which will help me to become a good teacher. I hope that I learn to see learning in its wholesomeness. I feel that integrated learning is required for the complete growth and development of a child, not its division in fragments and individual subjects. I hope that, as a teacher, I can create and maintain the curiosity of children to enquire and learn joyfully.

All in all, I hope I can become an educator who can touch the lives of my children in positive, constructive way.

Meenakshi is a student of PGDLT at IAAT

 


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SDMC Diaries: To dream or not to dream

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by Varun Gupta

During a class on the theme of ‘Me and My Family’, I had a discussion with the children about their life’s aspirations, their wishes and dreams. Almost half of the children gave the following responses.

“मैं अपने परिवार को खुश रखना चाहता हूँ”

“मैं अपने भाई को रिमोट कण्ट्रोल कार देना चाहता हूँ पर मेरे पास पैसे नहीं है”

“मैं अपनी मम्मी से कभी दूर नहीं जाना चाहता”

“मुझे मम्मी को, पापा को खुश रखना है”

“बहन को खुश रखना है, पूरे परिवार को खुश रखना है”

“मुझे एक बड़ा सा घर चाहिए, ताकि मैं और मम्मी-पापा और बहन उस घर में रह सकें”

“अपने बहन-भाइयों, मम्मी के लिए घर खरीदना है ǀ उनको खुश रखना है”

I am quite perplexed by these answers. It makes me feel both happy and sad. Happy because it shows how much love and concern they have for their parents and siblings. But it makes me sadder because they didn’t speak of any aspirations or dreams for themselves. They talked of the happiness and wellbeing of their families. But they wouldn’t say what they want from life, what they aspire to be. Maybe it just so happened that they were not able to articulate their dreams and wishes clearly. Or maybe they do see their happiness in terms of their family’s happiness.

I understand that at this young age, their aspirations might not have taken any concrete shape and so they didn’t have much to say about it. But even when I asked them what they wanted to have, what they wanted to purchase or to play with, there was no reply. I was baffled by this silence. Why don’t they want to have anything? Children usually do. Does it have something to do with the condition at home which inhibits their growth, development, dreams? Is it the harsh daily reality they are exposed to which does not accommodate or allow dreams to flourish?

I can understand that life can sometimes be too harsh or unfair. But can life ever be so discouraging that we stop dreaming? I am thinking of that magical thing which makes people believe in dreams, encourages them to pursue their aspirations, and makes them believe in the power of sincere hard work and determination that helps us achieve anything. Is it that there aren’t enough success stories or role models in society which can keep alive these dreams? Or do we get entangled in the question of ‘how’ so as to forget to dream about the ‘what’?

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I have come to realise that aspirations, dreams and hope make up the oil which keeps the light burning in our lives. In this context, as parents, we have a huge responsibility to encourage our children to keep dreaming, to care for their dreams and aspirations, and to provide strength and support to them so these can be fulfilled. Parents’ love, affection and trust work like tonic for children. Their words can either make or break the child’s confidence and ability to dream. Sometimes, we become so habitual in catching them doing something bad that we forget to see their goodness, we forget to take note of the special things they are able to do.

The same may be the case of teachers and adults in society. As a teacher, I need to look more into this, make space for their dreams, and take the required steps to see their aspirations accomplished. We need to nurture and sustain these dreams, we need to help everyone believe that they can fly, can do anything, can become as they wish.

Varun is an IAAT PGDLT Fellow currently working at the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, Hauz Khas Police Colony School


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New beginnings

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It wasn’t merely the Resident Teachers who had an experience of a lifetime during the retreat that started off the PGDLT programme. A new member of the IAAT team shares of the profound inner journey that the retreat initiated.

Put a group of aspiring educators together in the middle of wilderness, throw them into extraordinary adventures, make them reflect on their experiences collectively – and can you hope to create some kind of magic? The third batch of IAAT might have anticipated less as they set off on the first leg of their yearlong journey as learners of learning with a five-day retreat this June, but for many, it proved to be a powerful journey into the self, a chance for self-exploration and self-transformation unlike anything they’d experienced before. They may have entered the program as aspiring educators, but found themselves confronted with the enormous challenge of knowing oneself and changing from within.

What place does this kind of inner work have for people looking into teaching as a career? The biggest takeaway for many student teachers, as well as for new members of the IAAT team like myself, was that if we want to truly make a difference in the lives of children as educators, we must first know and understand ourselves better. The self has long been neglected in educational and professional spaces to the extent that we have started to believe that it is dispensable. And while this may allow for greater efficiency and practicality, it has also stolen from us some of our greatest gifts – joy, love, clarity, purpose – which make life beautiful and meaningful.

Somewhere along the way, it became evident for us that our own lives cannot be shrouded in darkness, unhappiness and confusion if we hope to provide an environment where children can access life’s gifts and flourish as human beings. And similarly, we cannot hope to make good teachers if we do not want to be learners ourselves. But is it too late for us as adults to take that initiative, to change our way of engaging with life, to become learners again? These were some of the concerns and anxieties that played themselves out over the course of the retreat. But our thought hurdles were put to rest as we immersed ourselves in experience after experience that showed us that it is actually never too late to begin learning.

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The program of the retreat began by pushing us beyond the limits we’ve grown to set on ourselves. It was tantalising to see how different fear felt now that we were getting closer to it, exploring it and challenging it. We breathed fear as we looked over the edge into the precipice before hurtling down rocks, we nestled fear to sleep in the cold, all alone, as the emptiness of the sky engulfed our bodies and beings, and we hung fear on baited breaths as our feet glided over glowing embers. We touched fear with our hands and feet, tasted it with our mouths, and as we embraced it, it became clear that fear is a generous friend rather than a hostile enemy. It got some of us contemplating on how, as adults, we are protective of the children in our care, depriving them of experiences in the fear that they might be harmed.

I think it helped us all to be part of a group facing our fears together. The physical challenges we went through unleashed our emotional baggage as well. Before we’d set off on the retreat, we’d taken a pledge to be non-judgemental and although it was an incredibly hard thing to follow through, it also provided an atmosphere of safety that allowed us to take risks, be open, vulnerable and honest. Set free of that old and festering fear of being judged by others, we spoke freely with one another. Many of us felt cleansed by the end of the retreat, ready to own up to the emotions inside us, and also better able to connect with those around us at an emotional level. In less than a week, the group became a supportive and nurturing community that shared love and compassion, encouraged and inspired, aided and healed.

We moved from a state of doubt about our own abilities to a willingness to take initiative and plunge into action. Like others around me, I was surprised by just how proactive I could become. During a reflection session around leadership, it became clear to me the importance of taking leadership of one’s own life. We were learning that each one of us could be leaders, taking charge of our lives and heading in a purposeful direction of our choice.

Now back in our classroom, and in the more ordinary rut of everyday life, the self that we encountered in that week of retreat becomes a guiding light that tells us to give more to life and seek more from life. It becomes more important than ever to relate that deeply personal and introspective experience of the retreat to our experience in the classroom and to our aspiration as educators. This may come in the form of pushing ourselves into “I can” when the mind says “I can’t”, of questioning our assumptions and widening our perspective, of supporting others and seeking help from them, and of being open to learn from the richness of the experiences that life offers us. As long as we are learning, moving, constantly growing, we can be assured that we will make good educators.

Ayushma Regmi, Teaching Associate, I Am A Teacher